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How did NCIS: Los Angeles star LL Cool J get his name?

The actor's real name is James Todd Smith

Eve Crosbie

LL Cool J has been keeping television fans entertained as the beloved Sam Hanna on hit drama NCIS: Los Angeles for nearly 12 years. However, before that he had an equally successful career as a rapper. 

MORE: Inside NCIS: Los Angeles star LL Cool J's sad family history

But have you ever wondered how he got his unique stage name? We did some investigating and here's all you need to know…

LL Cool J's real name is James Todd Smith. The 53-year-old adopted the moniker back in 1984 when he was just a fledgeling rapper hoping to get signed to a record label.

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At the time, he was just 16 years old and had already road tested a few different stage names - including J-Ski. However, he quickly returned to the drawing board as he wanted something a bit more memorable.

LL spoke to Katie Couric about the origin of the name LL Cool J in 2013.  "I had a friend, his name is Playboy Mikey D, he's a rap artist," he said. "We were in a group together. I was walking down the street one day, and I said, 'I want a cool name'." The two brainstormed off the back of the word 'cool' and came up with Ladies Love Cool James.

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As for whether the stage name reflected his popularity among female fans at the time, he confessed: "I promise you, it was completely wishful thinking. I was a little kid just hoping."

He added that he eventually shortened the name to LL Cool J "because Ladies Love Cool James would look a little ridiculous and a little long on a piece of vinyl."

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LL Cool J came up with his unique name when he was just 16

With the new name LL landed a record deal with Def Jam and just a year later in 1985, he released his first official single, I Need a Beat. The song sold over 100,000 copies, creating a major buzz in the hip-hop world and launching the young rapper into superstardom.

Not long after, he landed his first on-screen role in a high school football movie called Wildcats, igniting a life-long passion for acting. After a number of supporting film and television roles, he landed the part of special agent Sam Hanna in NCIS spinoff series NCIS: LA in 2009.

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LL Cool J plays Sam Hanna in NCIS: Los Angeles

He told Glamour in 2014 that while he's billed on the show as LL Cool J, he prefers to go by his actual name on set. "I let everybody call me Todd because I think that one, it's more personal and I can connect with people, and two, I don't want it to be about my career, my brand, my persona," he said.

"I'm here working, and I just like Todd Smith on the call sheet. It just keeps it simple. I don't feel like they'll take me more serious or anything like that because I'm still LL Cool J on billing, but I think it's more personal."

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